Written by Erin Pearson
Saturday August 22 2015
THEY’RE unconventional ex-cops looking to change the way Australia protects domestic violence victims.
Bolstered with experience from years of working in the force, hospitality and security industries, Geelong father-of-two Stephen Wilson and business partner Steven Schultze are helping build a sense of safety for some of the state’s most abused and vulnerable people.
They delve into the confronting world of cyber abuse, install CCTV outside the homes of women with violent ex-partners, remove tracking devices and reassure victims that some men still do care.
The pair run Protective Group, a private company specialising in risk management, security, investigations and certificate courses, which has helped more than 200 family violence clients in the past 12 months alone – most for free.
“Most recently we’ve been working closely with the Salvation Army’s Safe Futures program, where if someone comes to us as a high-risk victim, we conduct a risk assessment, set up professional meetings,” Mr Wilson said.
“Right now, I get a call from Karen from the Salvation Army(saying)”I have a woman who is very scared, her husband is bashing her door down, I need your help’.
We’ll get there, we’ll get her away, get her to the crisis centre, organise a watch for her, organise an IVO (intervention order), against him and liaise with the police.
“We don’t have to submit a report, we just go out and do it.”
A self-titled “crusty old cop”, Mr Wilson previously spent 15 years with Victoria Police, working with the National Crime Authority and drug squads on cases including large-scale race-fixing and drug importations. He then ran the Royal Hotel in Queenscliff, before venturing into operating a security business.
It was there, he says, that he became aware of the desperate need for help among domestic violence victims “Until you change a male’s way of thinking, you’ve got to look at other options, and if that option is making people safer in their own homes – giving the woman a sense of empowerment back – she’s got control of her life,” Mr Wilson said.
The Geelong Advertiser reported in June that local women’s refuge Minerva Community Services was getting 160 referrals from police each month, with reports of domestic violence in the Greater Geelong region doubling over the past four years.
It is revelations like these that moved Mr Schultze – a former criminal intelligence, homicide and cover operations cop – to present his personal findings at the royal commission into domestic violence in July.
He slammed hold-ups in investigating cases and called for an increased working relationship between private companies, police and state government agencies.
He told the hearing that the most frustrating part of his job was learning that the cases of many terrorized women had “fallen through the cracks” with Victoria Police.
“The police cannot be expected to respond to the 67,000 response call-outs that they receive,” Mr Schultze said.
“However, the reality is that women and children’s violent experiences are not being validated, being left unseen, unheard and unprotected because of system failures, and in some cases, the failure to conduct proper criminal investigation of family violence matters,” he told the royal commission.
“We are determined to wrap a safety net around family violence victims and their families, and understand that while many societal changes are needed to put an end to this insidious issue, in the interim we must protect those that suffer at the hands of present and former intimate partners.”
Since the pair began working with the Salvation Army about three years ago, they’ve been moved to start tapping into technology as a way to break the cycle and address the rise in calls for help.
They have developed a device they have dubbed the “Safety Watch” – designed to empower women and allow them to stay in their own homes knowing Mr Wilson and Mr Schultze are only a press of a button away. They are now pushing to have the new age device included as a government-funded safety rollout.
“When the iWatch came out we realise we could make a similar looking device that could go undetected yet be monitored 24-7,”Mr Wilson said.
“If a family violence victim gets this and feels any angst or had a problem, they can press the red button on the top which goes to a monitoring centre which can hear what’s going on. The device records to catch out any breaches and it can also dispatch police, ambulance or contact a friend to say ‘I think he’s here’.
“We’re now looking at developing a perpetrator anklet that would sync with the watch, so if she’s home in Geelong West and bugalugs goes within 500m of her house, it beeps. Within 100m and it tells her to go inside and lock the door.”
They say that since the Safety Watch was rolled out they’ve seen intervention order breaches drop significantly, with only three reported since 2014.
Salvation Army Crossroads program manager Karen Hagen said the pair’s support for her program was priceless.
Ms Hagen said with domestic violence being the leading cause of homelessness and homicide, urgency was the key. “We need to have the highest level of intervention. Every day we’re meeting high-risk and extremely fearful women, and because of the Protective Group we’re able to work with more women, speed the process up a lot and gain priceless knowledge from them,” she said.
“Yesterday our case manager was paged to review a high-risk house and they found a number of things which we could do. Without this support we would’ve had to wait until the police weren’t busy with an emergency call before we could even attend-and they don’t charge us at all.
“These guys go above and beyond.
Geelong Advertiser Erin Pearson Saturday August 22 2015